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The Incredible History of 4/20 Stoner Celebrations

Samantha Williams

The celebration of 4/20, which takes place on April 20th, is the biggest holiday of the year for cannabis enthusiasts worldwide.

On this day, stoners and smokers celebrate their love of weed, honor the marijuana plant, and embrace the 420 lifestyles.

But what does 4/20 mean, and where did this tradition come from? 

If you smoke weed, you’ve probably heard the term ‘420’ before, but not many people know where the term originated.

Regarding the history of 4/20, there’s tons of legend and misinformation.

However, there is one true story that has been verified.

What Does 420 Mean?

The term ‘420’ is a general slang term used amongst the cannabis community.

If a place is described as 420-friendly, that means that they’re accepting of weed use there.

People often use ‘420’ as a prefix to describe something weed related, such as a 420 lounge or a 420 event.

Stoners will commonly celebrate the number 420 by smoking annually on 4/20 or daily at 4:20 pm.

The Real Origin of 4/20

Despite all the legend and lore, the truth is that the term 420 originated from a group of Bay Area high school students.

In 1971, these five students from San Rafael, California called themselves the Waldos.

The Waldos heard a rumor that members of the Coast Guard had planted marijuana nearby at a place named Point Reyes.

A treasure map existed that would lead them to this abandoned crop.

Once the Waldos got hold of the map, they decided to meet at 4:20 p.m. on the San Rafael High School campus.

Their meeting location was in front of the school’s statue of Louis Pasteur.

Finally, 4:20 p.m. arrived, and the Waldos met at the statue.

In typically stoner fashion, they got high before driving out to Point Reyes in search of the fabled plant.

Despite a long night of searching, they didn’t find any signs of marijuana on the first trip.

The Waldos lifted their spirits and tried to remain optimistic that this legendary plant was real.

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The group came back week after week in search of the cannabis crop.

The Waldos became obsessed with finding the plant.

Members of the group would often call out “420 Louis” to each other in the hallways as a reminder of their meet-up time and location.

Soon, the Waldos shortened the term to just 420 and started using it as a general codeword for weed.

Other students from San Rafael High overheard and began adopting the term.

The slang then took off when the band the Grateful Dead heard it while rehearsing in San Rafael.

Once the term reached the Grateful Dead and their fans, 420 was forever cemented in the cannabis culture language.

Proof & Evidence

The history of 4/20 is often disputed, misattributed, or exaggerated.

Many people claim they know the one true story about 420 when all they know are fabricated fables and urban legends.

In reality, the story about the Waldos is true, and the group has evidence to back up their claims.

One piece of hard evidence is an art project from the period with the term 420 written next to a pot leaf.

Furthermore, there’s even mention of 420 in their high school newspaper.

Even the Oxford English Dictionary credits the high school students from San Rafael with creating the term.

Regarding the origins of 420, the publication states it began with their quest to find the abandoned cannabis plant.

Finally, if you need even more proof, you can hear the tale straight from one of the Waldos.

Dave Reddix, a member of the Waldos, tells his story about the start of 420 on the Bay Curious podcast from KQED.

Other Legends & Rumors on the History of 4/20

There are a ton of interesting rumors and stories that try to explain the origins of 420.

They’re all untrue, but they’re still fascinating to learn about.

One of the tall tales is that 420 is the code police officers use to indicate a weed-related offense.

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While this wasn’t the case, some police departments have started using 420 as the code for pot.

Another rumor about the term’s origins is that there are 420 chemical compounds in the cannabis plant.

This claim has been proven false.

Modern research has shown us that over 500 natural chemicals and more than 100 cannabinoids are within the marijuana plant.

One of the most popular urban legends regarding the history of 4/20 is that the term is related to a famous person’s birthday.

Some people claim that stoners celebrate April 20th in honor of Bob Marley, Janis Joplin, or Adolf Hitler.

This 4/20 birthday legend is nothing more than a myth, however.

Cannabis Culture of the ‘60s & ‘70s

It makes sense that the history of 4/20 can be traced back to the early 1970s since this was a prime time for cannabis culture in America.

Marijuana use was becoming popular amongst white, middle-class individuals and as a part of counterculture movements like the hippies and beatniks.

Even President Kennedy was rumored to have habitually smoked cannabis in the White House around this time.

In 1970, one year before the story of the Waldos, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was founded.

The creation of NORML was a huge step in convincing the general public to accept cannabis use.

Around this time, marijuana became more mainstream.

Today, NORML is one of the world’s most widely recognized cannabis activist groups, and they continue to fight for marijuana reform daily.

A few years later, in 1974, another cornerstone of cannabis culture was born.

Tom Forçade, one of the initial creators of NORML, founded The High Times magazine.

The public opinion surrounding weed use was rapidly shifting.

At this point, many mainstream Americans were becoming acquainted with the 420 lifestyles.

How to Celebrate 4/20

Stoners all across the globe celebrate the holiday of 4/20 in unique ways.

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On April 20th, cannabis consumers will smoke, eat, drink, and honor all things THC, CBD, and marijuana-related.

However, one of the most widespread traditions is to countdown and smoke at 4:20 p.m on 4/20.  

If you’re looking for more official celebrations, tons of 4/20 events are hosted worldwide.

Places like Amsterdam, Colorado, and Barcelona are notorious for their cannabis culture.

In America, more than 420 festivities are now that a record number of states are legalizing recreational weed. 

Annual 4/20 Events in the USA:

  • Mile High 420 Festival – Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado
  • High Times Cannabis Cup
  • Hippie Hill – Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California
  • The National Cannabis Festival – RFK Festival Grounds in Washington, D.C.
  • 420 Fest – Culture Yard in Seattle, Washington

Since every year is different, it’s recommended that you check online to see which events are happening near you.

Finding a 420 celebration shouldn’t be too hard if you live in a legal state.

If you enjoyed this article, check out our weed quotes for some thoughtful perspectives on marijuana.

The Future of 4/20

The future of cannabis legalization and 420 celebrations are looking bright.

Legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes is trendier now than ever.

In America, this all started in 2012, when Colorado and Washington legalized weed by passing Amendment 64 and Initiative 502, respectively.

Since then, more and more states have been choosing to legalize or decriminalize marijuana.

Today, the general public supports marijuana legalization by a large margin.

However, despite the people’s will, the federal government is still slow to reverse years of the anti-cannabis policy.

For now, cannabis advocates in many states will have to wait it out.

If you want to help kickstart the marijuana revolution, stay involved with politics or join an activist group.

One day shortly, the whole nation will be able to celebrate 420.

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